What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Have built and completed the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.”
Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to announce that “they have entered into Copartnership in all their mercantile Business.” The new partners operated a store that stocked “a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.” They advanced some of the most common marketing strategies that appeared in eighteenth-century advertising – consumer choice, price, quality – but they also incorporated other appeals to distinguish their notice from others.
Merchants and shopkeepers rarely commented on their shops as retail spaces in newspaper advertisements, choosing instead to focus on their merchandise or personal attributes that qualified them to serve customers. Thurber and Cahoon, however, mentioned their location “at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes” at the north end of Providence before launching any of the many other appeals in their advertisement. “[F]or the better accommodating their Customers,” they proclaimed, they “have built and completed the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” Considering the range of imported goods in their inventory, Thurber and Cahoon needed adequate space to store and display their stock. Yet operating the “largest Shop and Store” in town had other advantages. It presumably allowed customers sufficient room to examine the merchandise and to move throughout the establishment freely. By implication, their competitors occupied small and crowded spaces that detracted from the overall experience.
Thurber and Cahoon invited potential customers “to come and look for themselves” at their shop, promising the “greatest welcome.” Here customer service intersected with the amenities of the retail space to create an environment in which patrons would experience “Pleasure” even as they “lay out their Money.” The partners predicted that their customers would “chearfully” make purchases, in part because they so enjoyed shopping at the “best and largest Shop and Store” in Providence. In the nineteenth century department stores marketed themselves as palaces of consumption. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement anticipated that strategy approximately a century before it became a standard aspect of selling the shopping experience to customers.